A Short Story by J.Bock

My eyes strain from rereading the completed form fields on the screen. The morning sun gets higher and hotter and a bead of sweat slides down the right side of my face. A gust of wind flips up the corners of the papers pinned underneath my laptop. The breeze offers some reprieve but also wafts the stench up from the canal turned open sewer four stories below. I consider moving my workstation from the tea table on my balcony back inside where I can turn on the air conditioner, but my bank account’s balance says any spike in the electric bill would be less bearable than the smell. I don’t want to go back in there anyway. The quarantine took away any feeling of comfort my apartment once offered.

I have to cope. Getting too fed up, too impatient, is how I ruined everything. Last month, I had to get out. I missed her too much. I decided to shirk the new policy for meeting non-family members. At the time, it was just made into law by emergency decree when the infection numbers from the new variant began to climb. I didn’t take it seriously. So little other laws are enforced in this city. I didn’t think this one would be either.

I asked my girlfriend, Ellena, to meet me at the cafe we’ve gone to a thousand times before. After hearing my whining and unfounded assurances, she agreed to come. But once we were within 2 meters of each other, our phones beeped with notifications from the LiveSafr app. The cafe staff apologetically asked us to separate or they’d have to call the police. We complied, but our risk level on our profiles went from green to red, and if you’re red, you can’t submit the application I’m working on now. It’d be denied automatically. It took a month to the day (today) for us to go down to yellow.

I hate bureaucracy, but I miss her more.

Back to the form on the screen. Name: Kal Chaichana. Gender: male. Email–correct. ID number–I pull out a paper. ID number’s right. Vaccination status–also correct with the uploaded document that includes the QR code. Health insurance information–I think is good. The policy number is correct. And now her information. Name, ID number, email, vaccination status, address. Proposed meeting address with hotel reservation, date and time. “Social” is marked with a radio button and I cringe rereading the text in the box for the explanation: “Our reason is social in hopes of preserving our romantic relationship.”

I’d rather have written: “To see my girlfriend, you nosey-ass bureaucrats.” But, that’s not what they want. They want reductive, professional language.

I assume.

I shake my head, click “Next” to bring up the following page and input my credit card information for the processing fee.


Payment approved.



The agreement page is replaced by a spinning wheel and then “Success”. Our application will be reviewed in 3-7 days and I can check the status with my case number: 9485733. I close the laptop, stand up from the metal chair and push out my hips, stretching my lower back.

I tap Ellena’s name on my phone and rest my elbows on the railing. A man and woman are walking the narrow sidewalk beside the canal. The four-lane city street that straddles the waters on either side is still too quiet. In times of normalcy, out here, I wouldn’t be able to hear the phone ring on the other end.

“Hello,” she answers audio only but her voice is music.

“Hey, it’s done. I submitted it.”

“Was it hard?”

“Not really. I mean the website is really simple. It’s just a lot of shit to put together, you know?”

“Yeah, but it’s all necessary, right?” she asks.

“I guess. I honestly don’t know what to think anymore.”

“Do you think we’ll get approved?”

I want to give her hope. I want to give myself hope.

“Yeah. We should,” I say.

“What do you mean ‘should’? Why wouldn’t we? Did you mess up the form?”

“No, no. I’m like 99% sure I did everything right.” I pull out the stack of papers from underneath my laptop and flip through to her insurance information. “It’s just–you know. They might not like the reason, or they could raise the threat level. Something could go wrong with the insurance.”

“Or they could decide to punish us more,” her voice cracks.

“I’m sorry for that. I really am.” For last month’s mistake, I’ve been punished everyday by her, the Department of Disease Control and myself.

“That wasn’t all your fault,” she says sweet and dishonest.

We get quiet for a moment.

I set the papers back onto the tea table and check LiveSafr. “I’ve been yellow since midnight last night. Are you still yellow?”

“Yes. And I didn’t leave the building at all today. Hell, the only other human I’ve seen not on a screen for the past month is my roommate,” she says. “I need to go see my dad.”

“I’m sure he blames me for you turning red.”

“Yeah, he’s not thrilled.”

The man has always hated me. I’m too poor. He knows he can’t get a sin sod out of me if and when things get serious. Apparently, he also thinks I’m a little too fat even though he’s got a considerable gut of his own from drinking beers all day every day.

“Well, as long as your dad’s not red, you should be able to go visit him today without any issues. And if we’re both still yellow when they process the application, we’ll get approved to see each other, too.” I go inside and grab a can of coffee from my mini fridge and pop the tab. It’s somehow both too sweet and too bitter and far worse than what our cafe serves. I swallow it anyway.

“I do want to see you both,” Ellena says. “But listen. Yesterday, management put up a memo in the elevator. Someone in the building got infected. On the 30th floor.”

“Were you in contact with them?” I ask.

“I don’t think so. LiveSafr would have told me if I was, right?”

“It’s supposed to.”

“The letter said they are checking the security camera footage and are notifying everyone who was in close contact with them or used the elevators right after they did.”

“And they haven’t contacted you?” I ask.

“No one’s called me, yet. The letter said the person was taken by ambulance to the hospital, so they aren’t in the building any more.”

“Good. Then take an ATK test and go see your dad. All this bullshit shouldn’t stop you from seeing him any longer.”

“You really think I can go, now?”

I take another sip of coffee and go back out onto the balcony. The couple from before has walked off out of sight. “Yeah, for sure.”

“Ok. I will. I’m worried about him. You know how he is.” Her voice drops. I feel she’s looking for sympathy that I’ve run out of on the subject.

“Yeah, I know,” I say.

“It’s just, the pandemic is really freaking him out, you know? Freaking me out, too.”

“It’s freaking everyone out. But it will be over soon. The government will settle down and–”

“I’m starting to wonder if this is worth it,” she cuts me off.

“You mean the policies? I for sure can say they’re not–”

“I mean this. You and me. If our application doesn’t get approved… then maybe it’s a sign.”

"A sign of what?”

“A sign that maybe we should just give up.”

“Are you serious?” I sit my coffee can down on the papers a little too hard and a drop splashes from the hole in the top to stain the notes on the top of the stack.

“At least for a while,” she says.

I sit down the metal chair. “Ellena, if we don’t get approved, all that means is that some bureaucrat is flexing some stupid power they shouldn’t have.”

“I...” She pauses. “I agree with you. But what else can we do?” Her voice cracks again.

“I don’t know.” My stomach sours. “We go anyway–leave our phones at home. Hell, I’ll throw my fucking phone into the canal if it means I can see you again!”

She’s crying.

She exhales.

“You know that wouldn’t work,” she says.

She’s right. The security cameras on the street would spot us and cross check the location with our phone’s GPS. When they don’t match (or when there isn’t one), the cops would be notified and we’d be escorted back to our homes. And of course, our LiveSafr profiles go back to red. I take a deep breath and lean back in the chair balancing it on its two back legs and look up to focus on a single speck of ancient dirt stuck inside the light fixture on the ceiling.

“We can’t let someone else decide what happens to us.” I say. “If we don’t get approved, we’ll tough it out. Wait until this is all over. Get back to life before all this–last year, when everything was easier.”

“Were things really that great?”

“Of course they were. At least they were better.” I let the chair fall forward back to all fours with a clank. “We could go anywhere we wanted. See each other without permission.” I imagine running my fingers through her long black hair, her smile and the scent of jasmine. “We’ll get approved. Go to the hotel. Order room service–on me. Get cocktails at night and good coffee in the morning.”

“That does sound fun,” she says.

“It will be.”

The line goes quiet one more time save for the sound static in the receiver from her breath. “Hey, I’m going to go,” she finally says. “Going to call my dad. Text me when you hear something.”

“I will.”

“Bye, Kal.”

“See you soon.”

I love you.

I toss my phone back inside through the balcony doorway; it bounces safely onto my bed. I then pick up my coffee, papers and laptop, take them inside, put the laptop on the charger, try to brush the coffee stain from the papers, reorganize them, clip them together and plop them down onto the kitchen table before killing the rest of the can of coffee. I toss the empty into the bin, go back out onto the balcony and scream as loud as I possibly can.